The Boston Globe draws hopeful breath from Tomaž Šalamun and Anselm Berrigan

By Harriet Staff

The Boston Globe did everyone a favor over the weekend and reviewed two new books in relation to each other, those being Tomaž Šalamun's The Blue Tower (translated by Michael Biggins) and former Harriet-eer Anselm Berrigan's Notes from Irrelevance. "...[I]f politicians inspire only forlorn sighs, let their better halves, poets, draw hopeful breaths in response," writes Michael Brodeur in his first intimation that poetry and politics might entwine in the two books. He continues on to confirm this: "It would be wrong to describe the new collections from prolific Slovenian poet Tomaz Salamun and Brooklyn favorite son Anselm Berrigan as political, but it would be difficult to imagine either being as vital a voice without their unique knacks for balancing the show of poetry with the tell of history." Brodeur makes clear how this operates for Šalamun, who told BOMB in 2008 that "'...just being what you are, to be free within your writing, this is also the center of the real responsibility of the world'...'Therefore, your freedom is a political act.'" Brodeur continues:

Salamun is nothing if not free in his poems. The 55 poems of “The Blue Tower,’’ his 11th collection in English (his output in his native Slovenian is closer to 40) is a lush swirl of anecdote and imagination, at once diaristic and dreamlike, surreal and somber. Often with Salamun, you navigate his stanzas the way you cross a darkened room - feeling around for familiar surfaces.

With their mélange of histories, meanings, and tones, Salamun’s poems often feel scooped from his home soil, as in “Rites and the Membrane’’: “It sinks into movies, I sink into mortar./ Scythes and pincers of bugs are no homeland./ My questions burst the barrel, and a bullet flies out./ In the corners pits are put to sleep. The pool is covered.’’

Salamun’s poems are deceptively playful, but they don’t feel fearless; his language is as propelled by the present as it is burdened with the past. And his cast of characters - from Holofernes to Erwin Rommel, Fra Angelico to Fat Joe, activist Slovenian poet Edvard Kocbek to British writer Diran Adebayo - erase our sense of either. As time withdraws itself from these poems, beauty and cruelty are freed of cause and seen for themselves, as in “Ivo Standeker,’’ a poem named for the Slovenian journalist killed in 1992 while covering clashes in Bosnia, and which sounds as much like orders as rites: “Dove in the vapor of my lungs,/ lie down, close your eyes./ Get up./ Lie down and close your eyes.’’

For Brooklyn poet Anselm Berrigan, the political arrives in pieces, settling across his sprawling poems like dew or debris. Berrigan has always matched his experimental drive with a personable quality, a trait that can’t help but be slightly tinted by his father Ted’s loose, lovable, lyrical legacy.

But where his lauded “Zero Star Hotel’’ played with notions of uncertainty by laying stanzas out like cards in a user-determined sequence (suggesting that even he didn’t know the right way forward), and “Some Notes on My Programming’’ dealt with the Bush-era doldrums from a rattled NYC in the frankest of terms (“Self censorship/ is the American avant-garde’’), his newest book-length poem “Notes From Irrelevance’’ stretches 65 pages of post-millennial howling into one determined column. It could be the poet striking out toward the “wiped-out horizon’’ on “a straight line north,’’ or it could be him pacing the hallway of his apartment.

In either case, “Notes’’ is a stunning statement to a world that has made artifacts of absolutes: “I don’t think it works to/ plead for a voice out of/ the monolith to make/ clear what you sense, feel,/ know to be happening./ Not ‘true.’ Happening.’’ Berrigan counts himself “as currently one/ of the six billion-plus’’ - and if that brings to mind the 99 percent, so too might the unarticulated dissent that simmers beneath a mire of pop culture samples and product placement:

“One/ mirrors the dynamics of/ massing without reason,/ lies an honest, productive/ lie, awaits questions. I got/ my first real six-string to/ play a flamenco version/ of kibbles ‘n bits.’’

The piece looks further into Berrigan's various tones--the colloquial, hopeful, tender, and so on. Read it in full here.

Originally Published: November 28th, 2011